Foreign ownership: An incredibly divisive subject; and I always think there are three sides to every argument – my opinion, your opinion, and the facts.
I don’t think there would be many people who would disagree that Australian agriculture needs foreign investment. However ‘investment’ is a vastly different proposition to foreign ownership.
For a landowner who is struggling and has a bank knocking on his door, with virtually no buyers’ interest from Australian companies or individuals, then a foreign investor would be a welcomed sight. Question is: should we be looking to foreign ownership to ‘save’ the situation, or should Australian businesses and primary producers be pressuring their government to establish better terms of international trade, fairer internal trade practices, a closer look at our supermarket duopoly, more forward looking drought policy, increasing public infrastructure in regional areas, etc.
We must also remind ourselves that these countries, so keen to invest in Australia, generally refuse ownership of their nation’s land to anybody other than their own companies or people….for good reason. ‘Ownership’ by someone else takes the control or opportunity from us all. ‘Investment’ generally means that a good percentage of that business’s money stays within our economy. Our financial, economic, employment, and land management requirements have to be maintained, and our economy continues to benefit from that investment.
In most cases Foreign Ownership means virtually all benefits from that business leave the country, and profits another country and people, instead of our own.
We all realise that the world will struggle to feed itself, and it’s only a matter of time before food (and water) will become a precious resource. This has led to a massive worldwide move on securing agricultural land anywhere. In Australia the land seems plentiful and cheap, and the government most accommodating to internationals, but not to their own producers.
How Australia deals with this buy-up of our land will affect us all. City and country! If we sell our land, production will benefit the owner and his alliances, not us. In these tough times, Australia can only see the dollars coming in, and is not thinking of the long term consequences of releasing control of our own production and resources. How will we feed our own people if we are feeding the rest of the world by default?
With our current ‘open arms policy’ it would be possible for a country to establish a ‘closed shop’ system where factory ships off load workers, rations, machinery, spare parts, fertiliser and insecticides….. And then take all the produce from their Aussie farms to be processed back home.
If this scenario is possible, surely we should be looking hard at foreign ownership, and instead be looking at sensible boundaries for foreign investment in this country.
When one looks at the returns on most agricultural pursuits, they are extremely poor. Our farmers work incredibly hard and invest huge amounts of capital for little return, but their contribution to the economy is socially imperative, and socially unrecognised. The rest of the world acknowledges the agriculture is essential to economic and social stability, and protects their food supply with subsidies. Australian producers generally receive over 25% less than the next least subsidized country in the world. Not a ‘level playing field’ by any means.
Another problem is the importation of overseas products, grown without the wage structure and conditions that Australian businesses must provide, plus many costs beyond the farm gate are passed back to the producer. Australian consumers expect to earn top wages & have good working conditions, yet everybody demands good quality, cheap food…..so the producer is the price taker, is at the bottom of the barrel, and must reduce his costs somehow.
The supermarkets simply tell producers and processors alike, “Unless you can become more efficient and compete against cheap imports, we will continue to buy from the cheaper source”. It is interesting to watch ‘overseas’ buying into Australian farming enterprises and the land and water that goes with it. To my way of thinking perhaps we should be looking at rules governing foreign ownership, or even look at special class of land title that gives foreign countries a lease over land, but not complete ownership. If we don’t have a really good debate over foreign ownership and make rules then we will suffer from bad policy for generations to come.
Perhaps we should be looking at the legislation in other countries that protects their most valuable people in any society, their farmers.
The Gladstone Regional Beef Producers would like to extend a warm welcome to all Beef Producers who wish to attend the Forum and Ball on the 9TH of November and it would be greatly appreciated if you could forward this information through your relevant contacts.
Hope to see you there.